Missed opportunity: How England lost Jamal Musiala to Germany

Missed opportunity: How England lost Jamal Musiala to Germany

The picture captures everything about youth football and its wonderful possibilities: two young boys, brothers in arms, staring down the lens and looking into the future.

On one side is Jude Bellingham, with a 10 on his chest. On the other is Jamal Musiala, resplendent in 11. Both are sporting the kit England wore at Euro 2016, both have dreams that one day they will play on the biggest stage — 13 times they played alongside each other in these numbers.

Studying the image now, it is impossible to stop yourself from thinking ‘what if’?

Musiala, with his pace and his sorcery and a right foot that cracks a ball like a cannon, had the kind of opening night at Euro 2024 where a reputation is moved to a different realm.

Wherever you watched, you couldn’t help but marvel at this outstanding young man, who helped orchestrate Germany’s 5-1 thrashing of Scotland. But look at the picture again: don’t you wish that you were anticipating what he and Bellingham might do together tonight against Serbia?

Jamal Musiala (left) and Jude Bellingham (right) played alongside each other regularly for England at youth level

Fans marvelled at Musiala's pace and sorcery as Germany hammered Scotland 5-1 on Friday

Fans marvelled at Musiala’s pace and sorcery as Germany hammered Scotland 5-1 on Friday

But Musiala, much to the Football Association’s regret, was the one that got away. He’s now an emblem for Bayern Munich and has the capacity to become the poster boy of this tournament.

So why did it happen? How, when the FA devote so much time to nurturing and developing young players, could this shimmering nugget of pure gold slip from their grasp? Nobody at St George’s Park feels anything other than bitter disappointment that their loss became Germany’s gain.

Born in Stuttgart to his German mother, Carolin, and Nigerian-British father, Daniel, Musiala moved to England aged seven. He was a Chelsea schoolboy and attended Whitgift School in Croydon, whose alumni include Callum Hudson-Odoi and Victor Moses.

England had been charting his progress at Cobham and, such was the esteem in which he was held by coaches, he was eventually selected for national duty when he was an under-14 player; he wasn’t as physically developed as others at that age but the potential was immense. Everyone saw it.

So the FA kept picking him. He played at every level and the fact he was struggling with some growth issues made his impact in games even more notable; there was a goal on his Under-15s debut against Turkey, a hat-trick against the Netherlands.

All those who worked with him at St George’s Park raved about his technical qualities — he is intelligent, quiet but confident. Coaches remember the Under-16s travelling to play in the 2019 Montaigu Tournament in France and Musiala taking Brazil and Argentina apart. Providing support and encouragement from midfield, always, was Bellingham.

Everyone at St George's Park feels bitter disappointment that England's loss is Germany's gain

Everyone at St George’s Park feels bitter disappointment that England’s loss is Germany’s gain

Musiala moved to Bayern Munich aged 16 in 2019 and within 12 months became their youngest Bundesliga player ever

It’s never the FA’s way to talk big and boldly when a teenager is making eye-catching progress, as they would never burden them with unnecessary pressure but, privately, they knew with Bellingham and Musiala they had enormous potential.

There was never a time they didn’t think he would become an England player. The landscape changed, though, when he moved to Bayern Munich, aged 16, in 2019 — how smart does that £170,000 investment look now?

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Within 12 months, Musiala had made his debut, becoming the youngest player to represent Bayern in the Bundesliga, and was around the squad that won the Champions League in 2020.

Still England stayed on his trail and it was seen as encouraging that he accepted a call-up from Aidy Boothroyd for two Under-21 European Championship qualifiers that November, making his debut against Andorra then scoring on his first start, against Albania.

At the same time as England were working on Musiala, though, Joachim Low had set the wheels in motion for Germany to make their pitch. Low became a regular visitor to the Allianz Arena, a charm offensive consisting of taking him and his parents for dinner and showing him a pathway.

Germany couldn’t afford to see the brightest young attacker in the country represent somewhere else and Low outlined precisely where he would play.

‘We would have liked him to stay, for sure,’ Gareth Southgate said after Musiala’s decision had been made.

Former Germany boss Joachim Low regularly visited Bayern Munich on a charm offensive

Former Germany boss Joachim Low regularly visited Bayern Munich on a charm offensive

'We would have liked him to stay, for sure,' said Gareth Southgate as Musiala joined Germany

‘We would have liked him to stay, for sure,’ said Gareth Southgate as Musiala joined Germany

Fate will decide whether Bellingham and Musiala will cross paths again in this tournament but one thing for certain is that the 21-year-old’s progress must be watched closely, for what he did against Scotland was exceptional.

‘The night of my life? You could say that,’ Musiala, beamed. ‘I had the best feeling ever. We wanted to start well, we did that and scored so many goals. We can go into the next game now with lots of confidence. There is so much quality in this team.

‘Yes, there is pressure on our shoulders but the pressure goes when you are out there having fun. You never feel pressure in those moments. We will look back on this game and see how we can do better. I never think about the past. I always look forward.’

But, as he does that, England will inevitably look back and wonder. Musiala joining this band of thrilling attacking young talent? It really would have been a reason to dream.

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